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VOL. 132 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rallings Questions Homicide Count, Calls for More Study of Violence

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings says he is going to “bring the fire” in 2017 when it comes to talking about and dealing with the city’s problem with violent crime.

In a wide-ranging speech Tuesday, Jan. 10, to the Memphis Rotary Club, Rallings used an extensive Power Point presentation to break down the city’s 228 homicides in 2016 – a record year for the homicide count.

He also said he intends to change the way the city tallies homicides to make a distinction between murders and other types of violent deaths including justifiable homicides, the death of fetuses and deaths resulting from injuries in assaults that may have happened in a previous year.

“In Memphis, we count every single homicide, meaning that our justifiables are in that number, viable fetus is in that number. Our negligent homicides are in that number. Sometimes an old homicide is wrapped in that number,” Rallings said. “It’s very confusing. … We’re going to have to change that system.”

Rallings conceded he is likely to be criticized for “cooking the books.”

“I’m going to do it and take the heat for it because it has to be done,” he said.

With those numbers taken out of the 2016 count, Rallings said the city was off the homicide record set in 1993.

“Yes, we came high. But when you look at where we ended up at, folks we really weren’t that high,” he said. ”We’re probably only about six homicides above 1993.”

With the justifiable homicides and other categories taken out, Rallings puts the 2016 murder count in the city at 195 instead of 228.

“That is nothing to brag about,” he was quick to add as he called for a broader view of the violence than a problem that relies heavily on police to solve it or explains the peaks and valleys of the violence by the numbers.

“Most of our opinions are really anecdotal. Nobody has really grabbed and studied homicides in Memphis,” Rallings said in a challenge to local higher education. “Every single college in Memphis that has a criminal justice program or a social science program should be taking on this challenge. If you aren’t, you’re not serious about the state of murder in Memphis, Tennessee. That is your challenge because it is not just a law enforcement crisis, it is a health crisis.”

He also questioned statistics that suggest somewhere around 20 percent of the city’s homicides are gang-related. The percentage seemed low to Rallings, who summarized the causes of the homicides as “gangs, guns, drugs and domestic violence.”

And Rallings questioned the role poverty plays in the violence citing the relatively low incidence of Latino or Hispanic homicides.

Former Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong introduced Rallings and at the end of a question and answer session urged the audience of 110 at the University Club to support Rallings during city budget hearings in the spring.

Armstrong said Rallings will need more funding to hire more police officers, a task that Armstrong said is more difficult with recent cuts in city employee benefits during Armstrong’s tenure.

“You have to take care of the people who are taking care of you and we haven’t a good job of that,” Armstrong said.

The comment is the first Armstrong has made on the benefits cuts since leaving the police director’s post.

Armstrong noted that when he became police director in 2010 the police force was at more than the 2,400 goal for the size of the force and that now it is below 2,000. He also said if he was a police chief in another city, he would cancel recruit classes and instead recruit Memphis Police officers with better benefits.

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